FSG Blog
September 8, 2012

400-Word Scenario #6: Prisoners’ Dilemma Nation

[With another momentous election – “the most important of our lifetimes!” – approaching, we scenario consultants perform one of our critical functions: depressing America. “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only?” …We don’t know; all we know is that these shadows take up EXACTLY 400 words.]

SEPTEMBER 10, 2020 Remember the hard-fought, down-and-dirty presidential and Congressional elections of 2012?

The exhausted winners crawled across the finish line, only to find that the election, sold by both sides as the most critical of our lifetimes, had decided nothing.

On one side were those who wanted common-sense economic and fiscal and monetary policies; on the other side were people who put ideology over country.

The winners announced boldly that they finally had a “mandate” to pursue their agenda.

But when the dust had settled, reality intruded: the opposition still had the ability to filibuster any bill it wanted in the Senate.

And so it did. “They would filibuster mother, apple pie, and rescuing drowning kittens,” the majority party groused.

The “majority party,” however, dared not take the step its more extreme members wanted: the elimination of the filibuster. Despite their majoritarian bluster, they retained some vestigial faculty for mathematics that caused them at least to ACT as though they understood that any given biennial election could cause them suddenly to fall below the fifty-seat level in the Senate; so the filibuster stayed, and obstructionism increased year by year.

It was the old Prisoners’ Dilemma. Two suspects are questioned in separate cells. Each knows that if both hold out and do not blab, each will get a short stretch in jail. But each also knows that if one holds out and the other confesses, the holdout will get life in prison, while the rat will walk free. If each tries to implicate the other, they both get three years in jail. What do they do? They both rat each other out, knowing that they have avoided the worst of all worlds.

The Democrats, when they are the minority, block what they see as a fatal return to failed supply-side tax-cutting policies of the Bush era.

The Republicans, when they are in the minority, block what they see as the fatal Keynesian approach of government spending and tax hikes.

The result is a life sentence for the American people. Long-term fiscal issues remain unresolved, with low taxes on the wealthy and high spending on entitlements; the economy remains in the doldrums; infrastructure crumbles more and more; poverty increases, along with offshoring of jobs; with each cycle of shifting “majorities,” the obstruction gets worse, and each side blames the other for the lack of progress.

And so it goes, saecula saeculorum.

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